Category Archives: Tips, Tricks & Tools

Dialing Up Your Dialogue

how to write effective dialogue
Source: Englishdybayday.net

A good way to draw your reader deeply into your story is to use a variety of non-verbal cues in your dialogue.  Try the following techniques to dial up your dialogue.

Facial Expressions

When a character raises an eyebrow or furrows his brow, this action gives the reader an additional clue beyond dialogue that indicates a change in the character’s emotional state. As the scene progresses and the emotional intensity rises; the character’s dissatisfaction grows into anger, for instance, the character might clamp his jaw, his nostrils may flare, or eyes narrow to a squint, his face may redden and so on. These are all commonly understood signs of anger.

To learn effective use of these cues, read classic works containing emotional encounters or watch good dramatic films with the sound turned off.  Study the facial expressions of the actors and take notes of how they signal emotion.   Continue reading Dialing Up Your Dialogue

A Simple Formula for Book Review

gavel, judge, rulingI love to read.  And after I read a book I often post a book review of it at the major book buying sites and at GoodReads.com.  If I like the book, I like to say so.  If I didn’t like the book, I need to be able to say why I didn’t like it.  In order to facilitate my reasoning in either case, I’ve developed a simple formula for reviewing a book on the 5-star scale.  This is primarily for fiction, but non-fiction can be done the same way, you just have to substitute presentation and knowledge for dialogue and characterization.

Here is my formula for scoring a book review on a five star method:   Continue reading A Simple Formula for Book Review

Internet Privacy and the Microsoft Invasion

Internet_Privacy-512x384A while back my computer, running Microsoft Windows 8.1, started popping up a small window inviting me to upgrade for free to Windows 10. That’s very nice of them. To my knowledge, Microsoft has never before given away a new operating system to the general public. Upgrading is usually quite expensive. I didn’t know much about Windows 10 – it had not yet been released, the invitation was to reserve my copy when it was available. I poked around in my favorite software review sites to see if any pre-release notes had been posted. They had. They were not good. There were major concerns about internet privacy. Continue reading Internet Privacy and the Microsoft Invasion

Write Faster, Earn More

typewriter, writing, editing
A Hermes Rocket typewriter from the 1950’s

This article is not intended for novelists.  While novelists are certainly welcome to read it, I doubt you’ll find anything useful to your calling here.  This article is intended for those who write magazine articles, blog post/web content, and perhaps short stories or brief memoir pieces.

While the admonition of “write faster” may seem self-explanatory on the surface, it goes way beyond just hitting the keys at a higher rate of speed.  Although that too can help.  Isaac Asimov was once being interviewed by Barbara Walters. In between two of the segments she asked him, ”But what would you do if the doctor gave you only six months to live?” He said, “Type faster.”1

One of the things I like best about being a freelance writer over being a cubicle dweller or factory worker is the aspect that it’s up to me to decide how much I work and how much I earn.  As a corporate employee I worked so many hours a week and got a paycheck for a certain amount every two weeks.  Other than the rare opportunity for overtime, I had little to do with how much time I put in or the pay I took away.

As a freelancer, it is entirely — well, mostly — up to me to decide when I work and how much I get paid.  No work: no pay, work hard: get paid well, simple as that.  Mostly.  But it’s more than just keeping my nose to the grindstone longer.  I can eek out more profit by making that time count for more by working smarter, not just longer.  Here’s how that works.

Continue reading Write Faster, Earn More

Interview like a Pro: Think like a Shrink

therapy, interview, interviewing
Courtesy sftherapy.com

My writerly background is primarily non-fiction and journalism.  As such, I’ve done a lot of interviews.  Along this journey I’ve learned a few tricks: one is to approach an interview as a therapist would approach a patient.

In college I took some psychology classes: not to become a therapist but to learn what makes people tick.  These classes helped a great deal in this regard and in dealing with people in general.

I found this particularly helpful while I was working with a Smoky Mountain Visitors Guide, for which I was interviewing a different Smoky Mountains region artist each month.  The articles were full-page spreads and needed to be in depth and interesting.  Artists *can* be kind of high-strung.  Here are a few of the tricks I developed.    Continue reading Interview like a Pro: Think like a Shrink

Writing Lessons from the Garden

I lay claim to the title Professional Writer because I make an income from selling my articles and books.  I am also an amateur gardener: because I do NOT make any income from it.  I had once considered selling excess produce at the local Farmers Market, but that would mean getting up quite early on Saturdays and trundling a truckload of veggies over to a parking lot where I would HOPE that people would be willing to exchange cash for foodstuffs.  That lost its appeal once that ‘getting up early on Saturday’ thing became a tangible reality.  Still I have learned some lessons from gardening that apply well to other areas of life, even life as a writer.

garden, raised bed gardening, writing lessons

Continue reading Writing Lessons from the Garden

Four Flash Fiction Fixes

The pleasure of writing by Truman CapoteOne of the first known usages of the term “flash fiction” in reference to the literary style was the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: Seventy-Two Very Short Stories.  Editor James Thomas stated that the editors’ definition of a “flash fiction” was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine[1]. Flash fiction is generally described as a complete story that includes characters, setting, a problem or conflict: which the characters must resolve for a satisfying conclusion – all in 1000 words or fewer.  Some flash fiction writers do it in far fewer.  In this form of literature, the phrase, “Less is more” definitely hits home.

Why Write Flash Fiction?

Flash fiction is very useful for newbie writers who want to develop their story telling skills but lack the confidence for writing long elaborate tales.  It is also a great way for experienced writers to learn to tighten their tales and make them more vital.  Flash fiction is popular with a growing segment of readers who feel time crunched and prefer to read in bite sized chunks, but prefer not to engage in episodic reading.  A complete story in a pint sized package is just the thing for them.

Four Flash Fiction Tips

Here are four things to keep in mind as you attempt to write a flash fiction piece: Continue reading Four Flash Fiction Fixes

Difficult Voices: First Person Plural

First person is a very common voice for writers to use in fiction, especially in mysteries and crime thrillers; this voice allows the reader to discover the plot as it unfolds through the protagonists eyes.

Harold said, “I never knew her.” But I knew he was lying. I knew for a fact that Harold and Liz went to school together, shared a few classes and even dated for a while after they graduated. Why was he lying? I decided not to press the point just yet; I’d dangle a rope and see if he’d hang himself first.

First person can be limiting because the reader can only experience what the POV character knows, or experiences.  This means that the scope of the novel needs to be fairly tight.  Using multiple POV characters (first person serial) can expand the view considerably. Generally this is done by letting characters take turns in relating events as the story unfolds. Sometimes someone does something unusual such as in Levi Montgomery’s The Death of Patsy McCoy where the same story is retold through the eyes of several characters and each retelling reveals new facets of the complete story. Continue reading Difficult Voices: First Person Plural

Difficult Voices: Second Person in Fiction – Bully

bully, bullying, writing, second person
via BullyingProject.com

Second Person as a writing voice is quite common in non-fiction, particularly instructive non-fiction: “First you do this, then you do that, make sure you haven’t forgotten to lock down the sniggletharp.”  Sometimes the ‘you’ is implied, “Insert tab A into slot B and twist to lock”.  But second person, though uncommon, can also be used in fiction and can be used quite effectively.

In first person, the reader may choose to become the character or may simply ‘listen’; “I noticed my shoe was untied and crouched to remedy the situation just as something whizzed close over my head.  Had I been standing just then it would have caught me across my chest.” The reader may interpret that statement as being the character or may accept it as though sitting across the table from a friend, each with a cup of coffee as he tells about an adventure.

Third person is a detached view, but far more versatile, “Dudley noticed his shoe was untied and stooped to remedy the situation just as the length of pipe flew across the room.  Had he still been standing, it would have caught him in the chest. Snydley snarled as the pipe missed its target, ‘Curses, foiled again.'” Continue reading Difficult Voices: Second Person in Fiction – Bully

Non-Fiction: Research vs Knowledge

research, fact checking, internet, searchTo a certain extent, Dear Reader, today’s pontification will apply to novelists and short fiction writers as well as to those of us who specialize in non-fiction. But mostly, I’m talking to non-fic writers.

It has been said, “You do not need to know everything about a subject to be considered an expert on that subject, you just need to know where to go to get the answers.”  This saying was posted above my desk when I worked for a publishing company that put out three daily newspapers, a dozen or so monthly magazines and a few books each year.  I was Production Manager, but I also did a fair amount of writing for some of our publications.

I found a good deal of truth in the saying… and a fair bit of danger. Continue reading Non-Fiction: Research vs Knowledge